Vietnam and Afghanistan
When Will We Ever Learn
The war planners said that if Vietnam fell to the communists, they would soon be on the shores of India and beyond, the so-called “domino theory,” and now the hawks say we should never have left Afghanistan because the Taliban present a potential danger to the world if they join with their Pakistani allies and win over nuclear armed Pakistan.
In both wars, the U.S. was involved for two decades and generation of Vietnamese and now Afghanis have known nothing but war and then and now, former and current high ranking officials oppose U.S. withdrawal, calling for patience and more time and they need to tell that to the mother whose family was destroyed by a bomb in An Khe, Vietnam, or in Kabul, Afghanistan, explain how much more misery and pain they must endure. They were wrong in Vietnam and they are wrong in Afghanistan. The North Vietnamese goal was to impose communist rule, the Taliban goal is to impose Shariah law and in both cases, you would have to say that the options are better than death.
The American war machine likes to refer to U.S. casualties, treating civilian deaths as so-called “collateral damage.” These sanctimonious, Pecksniffian war planners, with their Harvard degrees, in their white shirts and ties and their little American Flag lapel pins, should map out their brilliant strategies to save the world not from behind their big desks in the total safety of their Pentagon offices but in the killing fields of Vietnam and Afghanistan, while they watch hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians die from the wars.
Many Vietnamese eventually saw the U.S. as their biggest threat and joined the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong and many Afghans would not take up arms to die fighting the Taliban, because they saw the Americans as a worse enemy.
As in both wars, civilians took the brunt of the devastation. In Vietnam, it has been estimated that 365,000 Vietnamese civilians died in the war during the period of American involvement. That is according to the 2013 book, “Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World.”
During the U.S. war in Afghanistan, from 2001 to 2021, an estimated 241,000 people have died as a direct result of the war, not including deaths caused by disease, loss of access to food, water, infrastructure, and/or other indirect consequences of the war. The figures include more than 47,245 civilians, 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan military and police and more than 51,000 Taliban fighters, according to a report, the “Costs of War Project” by the Watson Institute of International & Public Affairs at Brown University.
The N.Y. Times reported that about 3,000 civilians were killed in 2020, before the Taliban takeover, and that civilian deaths could decline under the Taliban because the fighting over land and deadly air strikes will end.
The voices of the Afghani people who oppose U.S. involvement in their country have been largely silenced by a media that has focused on American deaths and the conduct of the war against the Taliban. But those opposition voices exist and have been at times loud and here are a few examples.
On May 7, 2009, thousands of Afghan villagers shouted “Death to America” and “Death to the Government” in protest to a U.S. air strike on three villages that killed 147 civilians including 93 children and only 22 were adult males.
On Dec. 9, 2009, an estimated 5,000 Afghans marched in protest to the killing of 23 civilians in a pre-dawn attack by U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan troops opened fire on the protesters, killing four of them.
On Dec. 30, 2009, protesters in Jalalabad lit a U.S. flag and an effigy of President Obama on fire after chanting “Death to Obama” and “Death to foreign forces” in response to a U.S. led assault that killed 10 villagers during a raid.
On Jan. 21, 2010, Afghan villagers protested the deaths of civilians, including two children below the age of seven, who the Afghanis claimed were killed in a raid by NATO troops.
In March 2011, Afghanistan President Karzai rejected U.S. apologies after helicopters killed nine boys who were collecting firewood.
“Civilian casualties produced by the military operations of coalition forces are the cause of tension in relations between Afghanistan and the United States of America,” Karzai said. “The people of Afghanistan are fed up from these brutal incidents and apologies and condemnation cannot cure their pain.”
In May 2011, after more civilians were killed by NATO airstrikes, Karzai said the Afghan people could no longer tolerate the attacks and that the U.S.-led coalition risks being seen as an “occupying force.”
As with Vietnam, the voices of death are loud and clear, as in a column in the Washington Post by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser under ex-president trump, who has advocated for pre-emptive strikes against North Korea and Iran and has praised Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and Colombia’s president Iván Duque Márquez, both right-wing conservatives. Bolton also is regarded to be an “architect” of the Iraq War.
The headline of his column is “The time for equivocating about a nuclear-armed, Taliban-friendly Pakistan is over.”
“The Taliban’s takeover next door immediately poses the sharply higher risk that Pakistani extremists will increase their already sizable influence in Islamabad, threatening at some point to seize full control,” Bolton wrote.
“While Iran still aspires only to nuclear weapons, Pakistan already has dozens, perhaps more than 150, according to public sources. Such weapons in the hands of an extremist Pakistan would dramatically imperil India, raising tensions in the region to unprecedented levels, especially given China’s central role in Islamabad’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. Moreover, the prospect that Pakistan could slip individual warheads to terrorist groups to detonate anywhere in the world would make a new 9/11 incomparably more deadly.”
Sounds hauntingly like dominoes from someone who does not have the ability to be compassionate for all those innocents who have lost their futures, first in Vietnam, and now in Afghanistan.